Changing Nature's Course: The Ethical Challenge of Biotechnology

By Gerhold K. Becker; James P. Buchanan | Go to book overview

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Biotechnology—The New Ethical Frontier:

An Introduction

Gerhold K. Becker

The twentieth century is certainly not short of important scientific discoveries, yet few have had greater impact on our lives than the unravelling of the structure of the atom and the genetic make-up of organisms. Both marked the arrival of a new age of scientific development which has successfully forged the rise of a powerful alliance between pure and applied science, between scientific theory and technological practice (and application). Besides pushing society 'into the era of high technology' 1 it has forced scientists to reconsider their social role and to accept greater responsibility for the consequences their research may hold for the rest of us. This new situation is clearly reflected in Max Born's remark:

When I was young, it was still possible to be a pure scientist without being much concerned about the applications, the technology. Nowadays this is no longer possible, for natural science is inextricably intertwined with the social and political life (. . .) Today every scientist is a link within the technological and industrial system in which he lives. By that he has on his part also to be responsible for the reasonable use of his results. 2

While the end of the Cold War somewhat de-dramatized our fear of atomic weapons, the potential threat from nuclear power plants continues to be the source of great anxiety. It is only rivaled by recent advances in biotechnology which have captured our imagination and propelled our expectations of the immense benefits as well as the fears of the equally immense dangers. As a report by the Office of Technology Assessment has

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